In what seems to be a shout-out to the recently-deceased Jacques Derrida, Jon Stewart recently appeared on CNN’s Crossfire and attempted to examine oversimplified binary oppositions in American political discourse in order to expose their underlying structures, as well as the inherent instability of those structures — or something like that. Mr. Right and Mr. Left, needless to say, were not prepared for this. (Search around a bit for video of the interview; it’s all over the Internet at the moment, but the vagaries of linkrot and bandwidth caps make any direct linking a dicey proposition.) Also, Brian pointed me to an interview with Bill Moyers that covers much of the same ground in a less awkwardly contentious format.

His problem with “The Media” (a term that mightily irritates me, but I’ll bitch about that some other time) in general and debate shows like Crossfire and Hardball in particular seems to be that they ignore their opportunities to provide the public with meaningful insight into public events, choosing instead to engage in a simplified theater of “left vs. right, black vs. white, paper vs. plastic,” etc. Debate shows like this encourage people to buy into the notion that the entire political universe consists of exactly two points — no more, no less — and that anything that attempts to step outside this strictly polarized sphere of discourse is to be derided, excluded, and simply written off as an aberration.

Of course, the anchor of a satiric news show lambasting the hosts of a “serious” political debate show as “hurting America” is in itself a deliciously bizarre sight. Stewart somewhat disingenuously defends The Daily Show as being theater without pretense, whereas Crossfire misrepresents its content as substantive. It’s a weak argument, though: a frightening number of people cite The Daily Show as their primary source of news, and it’s not like satire is somehow completely separate from political debate. Stewart himself points out (and he’s hardly the first to do so) that comedy is a form where people are free to play on the system’s inherent absurdity, pointing out its contradictions and foibles. I hope Derrida’s laughing about it all.